The Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers about the prevalence of health fraud scams in the dietary supplement market.
Use caution with nonprescription drug products from the Internet, flea markets, international stores, as well as with imported products that are marketed as dietary supplements. Scammers often target people who shop at nontraditional places, to individuals who may not be fluent in English, and to people who may have limited access to healthcare.
The people trying to scam others are aware of who makes an easy target. For example, some groups have more tendencies to look for herbal or “natural” remedies, so a scammer may put the word “natural” on the product.
“Natural” Does Not Equal “Safe”
Just because the word “natural” is on the label does not mean it’s safe or that it doesn’t contain drugs in the ingredients. They may also contain potentially dangerous chemicals or ingredients not on the ingredient list.
For example, many products claiming to be meant for weight loss contain sibutramine, an ingredient also present in Meridia, which was removed from the market by the FDA in 2010. Clinical data revealed the drug increased a person’s risk of strokes and heart problems.
Furthermore, an FDA-approved drug on the ingredient list does not make it safe if the drug is in a different dosage or amount.
In short, scammers target an easy-looking target, sometimes offering less expensive products for more difficult or serious problems. This can translate to a delay in treatment for a serious disease.
Still others sell imported antibiotics illegally, with no prescription or doctor oversight. This can lead to misuse or abuse of drugs and contribute to antibiotic resistance.
You may notice these products marketed as dietary supplements in ethnic publications, on the radio or television, in flea markets or at swap meets.
It makes sense people are more comfortable buying products that feel familiar—they may be marketed to look like or actually be from someone’s home country. But this again does not guarantee the product is effective or safe.
To determine whether a product is fraudulent, look out for the following claims:
• Cure-all; “one product does it all!”
• Personal testimonials with no scientific evidence
• “Quick fix”
• “All natural”
• “Miracle cure”
Check with your doctor before buying an unproven product or one with questionable claims.